As a first-time mother, I didn’t anticipate the challenges that followed my decision to breastfeed my newborn. Spoiler alert: it comes with some surprises!
Is any first-time mother really ready for what happens when their milk first comes in?
The tingly sensation, the feeling of heaviness, milk leaking out, and the possibility of things going wrong — I don’t think anything really prepares you for it.
When I had my first child – my daughter, Iman – I didn’t feel prepared in the slightest.
Plus, it was the 1990s.
Back then, we didn’t have access to the information we do now — the internet was super young, and healthcare wasn’t as advanced as it is now.
Fortunately, when I was pregnant, I had a great support system around me, including close friends, family members, and a very helpful, knowledgeable healthcare visitor.
They were particularly supportive of my decision to breastfeed — a choice I made after extensively researching its health benefits.
Without their help, I would have given up on breastfeeding after facing some unexpected challenges.
I’d like to share what I experienced as a new mother learning how to breastfeed a newborn.
Every mother’s experience is different — and breastfeeding isn’t always the best choice for everyone.
But I hope sharing what I learned is helpful to others.
In this article: 📝
- Why I chose to breastfeed my newborn in the first place
- Learning to use my body as a valuable source of food
- My advice to new mothers
Why I chose to breastfeed my newborn in the first place
Why was I inspired to breastfeed?
There were three main reasons.
1. Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of babies developing certain health conditions.
My husband has asthma, so helping my children overcome possible genetic asthma was important to me.
I also had concerns about my weak eyesight and wanted to do whatever I could to strengthen my baby’s.
2. Breastfeeding may benefit a baby’s cognitive and physical development.
Recent research is pointing to this.
The milk that comes first (known as colostrum), in particular, has many properties to help newborns, including antibodies.
3. The experience of family members and my support system influenced my decision to breastfeed.
My elder sister, who lived abroad, gave birth to a healthy baby boy a year before I became pregnant.
When she came to visit, I was enchanted by her son.
Seeing how happy and healthy he was, I was inspired to consider breastfeeding as a real possibility.
Although my mother had been encouraged to bottle feed in the 1970s, she also completely backed my decision to breastfeed.
My husband and mother-in-law were also very supportive.
As I mentioned earlier, the health benefits were the primary reason I decided to breastfeed.
But I realize that it’s not the ideal option for every mother.
At the time, some other new mothers I knew shared their struggles with breastfeeding.
They found it inconvenient, and many had strong opinions against breastfeeding.
They believed it tied the baby to the mother, making the baby too clingy and curtailing the mother’s independence.
Remember, this was the 1990s — and breastfeeding wasn’t as widespread in the UK then.
In fact, even recent research has revealed that the UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding.
But, from my perspective, bottle feeding had its own drawbacks too.
For example, I didn’t like the idea of waking up in the middle of the night to warm the bottles of feed up.
Nor did I want to pre-plan and pack bottles of feed whenever I planned an outing.
So, while both options have advantages and drawbacks, I found breastfeeding to be better suited to my needs.
I also knew that it was not forever, and there would come a time when I’d eventually introduce solids into my daughter’s diet.
Learning to use my body as a valuable source of food
Getting good at breastfeeding is a skill — so practice is important.
I learned this the hard way.
When I was preparing for my first child, I relied too much on the “it’s natural” aspect.
This applied to breastfeeding and labor.
My daughter’s birth was initially unmedicated, but it was long and exhausting.
Eventually, the nurses attached a drip to give me some pain relief.
After a few hours, my new baby started crying to be fed.
By this time, it was late at night, and I struggled to help Iman latch on.
If you’ve been in a similar situation before, I’m sure you can relate to the frustration and fear that started to build inside me.
What I thought to be a simple process suddenly became a nightmare.
The hospital’s night nurse came to help me, but this first incident was an indication of things to come.
After I returned home, my support for breastfeeding was reduced to occasional visits by a health visitor.
The 1990s were not a time when the internet was available for a quick search or to connect with other mamas.
We only got support through books or people we knew.
I learned that there were some common problems that breastfeeding women face, and unfortunately, I had many of them.
1. Painful feeding
This can be a sign that the baby is not latching properly.
This causes obvious problems for the mother, but the baby also suffers because they aren’t able to feed properly.
Iman had trouble opening her mouth wide enough to latch on firmly.
She would get agitated and cry, making the whole experience more stressful for both of us.
The health visitor helped me learn how holding her in different positions can help.
She also taught me to encourage her to open her mouth wide by running my finger over it and then drawing it down.
Iman needed to latch on properly so she could relax and still breathe while feeding.
2. Sensitive and painful nipples
Very simply, the only way to avoid this was by making sure my daughter latched on properly!
Eventually, my nipples adjusted and strengthened.
But to protect them from cracking and bleeding, I had to listen to the health visitor and ensure my daughter was properly positioned.
Some other precautions I took were not wearing a bra or tight tops during the first week to prevent anything rubbing and irritating the area.
I also used breast milk to moisten the area to bring some relief.
I did consider silicone nipple shields, and I bought a pair.
But, I was concerned that Iman would get used to them, and it would make it harder for her to learn to latch on.
So I used the shields sparingly, mostly at the start of the feed when she was more agitated.
Afterward, I’d remove them, reattach her, and continue.
3. Breast engorgement and mastitis.
One day, my husband came home from work and found me in pain with a slight temperature.
This meant that my breast engorgement had possibly progressed into mastitis — an inflammation of the breast tissue with a possible infection.
My husband immediately called the health visitor, who came and took charge.
I recall my husband being sent off to buy a breast pump — a simple plastic manual one that I used many times over the years with my other children.
This meant I could pump the milk out of my swollen breast to bring some relief.
The health visitor also taught me how to smooth my fingers along the breast to find any lumps, which were blockages and could be massaged away with my fingertips.
And I learned that a warm, wet cloth applied to the breast brought some relief.
Initially, I didn’t fully realize the implications of there being one side my baby would be more comfortable with that was easier for her to latch on to.
Looking back, I think switching between breasts more often for feeding could have reduced my breast engorgement.
Once I had expressed the milk, and my breast had returned to normal size, I was able to latch Iman on, and she fed happily.
My advice to new mothers
There are lots of reasons to consider breastfeeding, including the health benefits it offers both you and your baby.
Since breastfeeding impacts our hormones, it may even allow mothers to fall asleep quicker and sleep more deeply.
And significantly, it may reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
I’m not a health professional, though, so do talk to your doctor before making a decision!
It’s not always the best option for all mothers.
Fortunately, nowadays, we have access to more knowledge, help, and equipment than ever before.
So my advice is to prepare yourself with essential equipment and a support system.
Talk about your decision with your family and friends, and look for expert help in your area (the health visitor helped me so much!).
Your Peanut community is also a great resource.
And remember, as with all new things, practice makes perfect.